Your Health

Breast Health Centre helps ease patients' journey through cancer

Photo of a woman's hand holding a breast cancer awareness ribbon.
Photo of Tania D'Amato. TANIA D'AMATO
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 12, 2018

It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, young or old. If you’ve noticed a lump or some other changes in one or both of your breasts, the smart thing to do is to get it checked out.

So where can you turn to for help?

Nearly everyone starts by contacting their primary health-care provider, which may lead to an appointment with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Breast Health Centre, located on Taché Avenue, just across the street from St. Boniface Hospital.

Established in 1999, the centre plays a key role in the health-care system by providing women and men with a single location for a full range of breast health services, including assessment and diagnosis, surgical treatment, and supports for a patient’s emotional and physical well-being.

Last year alone, the Breast Health Centre received about 10,000 patients, mostly through referrals from a radiologist after your mammogram or from the Manitoba BreastCheck program, which provides regular screening mammography to all women in the province between the ages of 50 and 75 that do not have any signs or symptoms of breast cancer.

However, it is helpful to remember that a referral does not automatically mean that a diagnosis of breast cancer will follow. Last year, for example, an estimated 860 Manitobans were diagnosed with breast cancer, with men making up about one per cent of the total. About two thirds of those patients attended the Breast Health Centre, which means that the vast majority of people assessed by staff at the clinic were deemed to have benign conditions.

There are many causes of benign lumps or tumours. They include fibrocystic changes (breast tenderness and lumpiness), simple cysts (fluid filled sacs), fibroadenomas (a solid, firm mass) intraductal papilloma (small wart-like growth) and gynecomastia (breast enlargement/lump) in men. These types of lumps can be caused by normal hormonal changes over a women’s lifetime, a breast infection, an injury, and some medications. If you discover a new lump or breast change that continues after a menstrual cycle, see your health-care provider to have it checked.

If you are referred to the Breast Health Centre, here is what you can expect.

A typical patient journey starts with assessment and diagnosis.

Most patients visiting the centre will have already had a mammogram, typically showing a mass or calcification that requires further investigation. This may take the form of additional mammography, or an ultrasound scan. Ultrasound is able to further characterize the abnormal finding detected by mammography, and will allow a radiologist to determine if a biopsy to obtain tissue samples for further study is necessary.

Most biopsies are carried out using mammography and ultrasound guidance. Last year, our centre also began working with St. Boniface Hospital to start performing biopsies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as an additional diagnostic tool.

The MRI-guided biopsy is performed when a lesion is not detected on ultrasound. During this procedure, magnetic resonance imaging is used to help guide the radiologist’s instruments to the site of the abnormality in the breast to obtain tissue samples.

For those who need further treatment, an appointment will be made to meet with one of the centre’s surgeons. Your surgeon might also call for blood tests and X-rays, both of which can be arranged at the same building location as the Breast Health Centre, which has a DynaCare lab and Manitoba X-Ray Clinic on-site. Your surgeon will also consult with our centre’s radiologists, who will use your mammogram, ultrasound, or X-ray to diagnose the nature of the cancer.

A surgeon will discuss treatment options, which can include a lumpectomy, mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, or a referral to CancerCare Manitoba for an appointment with a specialist. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy will also be discussed if it’s appropriate to your treatment.

All breast patients across the province have access to all the other services provided at the Breast Health Centre, including nutrition expertise, emotional support, assistance with medical forms, education before and after surgery sessions, exercise, coping with lymphedema and more.

During Breast Health Awareness Month this October, we especially want to let Manitobans know that our services and supports are available to all. We encourage everyone to “know your normal” when it comes to your breasts, and if you feel something is wrong, see your health-care provider.

Tania D’Amato is the Director of the Breast Health Centre. This is the second in a series of columns marking Breast Health Awareness Month. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, October 12, 2018.


Breast Health Centre

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